Study publishes unexpected benefits of drinking alcohol

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A new study says older adults who consume alcoholic beverages regularly may reduce their risk of developing dementia or other cognitive impairment before age 85, compared to non-drinkers.

The University of California, San Diego (UCSD), says that while genetics, diet, and the environment were factored into their study, moderate and heavy drinkers have a higher likelihood of reaching the age of 85 without developing cognitive diseases.

“Moderate and heavy drinkers had 2-fold higher odds of living to age 85 without cognitive impairment relative to non-drinkers,” the study says.

One alcoholic beverage daily for adult women of any age and men aged 65 and older is considered a moderate amount of drinking, according to a statement by UCSD.

The researchers say three or more alcoholic beverages for all adult women, and for men aged 65 and older, is considered heavy drinking.

For men younger than 65, heavy drinking is four drinks a day, while anything less is moderate.

Drinking amounts over the “heavy” limit is excessive, and excessive drinking over a long period of time has been linked to alcohol-related dementia. The study points out that “there were very few individuals in our study who drank to excess,” so the study does not include the effects of excessive or binge-style drinking.

The study, conducted between 1984 and 2013, focused primarily on white, middle-class men and women living in a master-planned community in California’s North County. Cognitive health was assessed every four years over the course of the 29-year study, using a standard dementia screening test known as the Mini Mental State Examination. The 1,344 older adults who participated all had at least some level of college education.

“[The study] does not suggest drinking is responsible for increased longevity and cognitive health,” the university said. “Alcohol consumption, particularly wine, is associated with higher incomes and education levels, which in turn are associated with lower rates of smoking, lower rates of mental illness, and better access to health care.”

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